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Are unpaid internships unfair?

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The living costs of working for no wage are unaffordable for all but the richest in society, according to education charity, Sutton Trust.

31 percent of graduates take on unpaid internships, according to the Trust’s reading of government statistics. With the large majority of internship opportunities located in Britain’s two largest cities, this comes with significant living costs.

The average monthly costs of living in London and Manchester are £926 and £788 respectively, accounting for rental for a room in a shared property, council tax, household bills, food, and miscellaneous expenses (which include broadband, clothing and cleaning products).

The study calls into question the impact for graduates who live outside of London or Manchester, and for those who are unable to afford to sustain themselves for a period of months without an income.

The rise in popularity of unpaid internships allegedly comes from increased competition on the graduate job market, with employers placing increasing value on graduates with work experience.

“Serious and pressing problem for social mobility”
Sutton Trust

Beth Newman, a first-year History undergraduate from Leeds, stayed with a family member in London for a work placement with an employment law solicitor. Speaking to the Boar about how the experience helped her apply for university, she said:

“It cost a considerable amount to get into London every day, but for how much I gained from the experience in terms of my skills, and how it could help me with the things I want to do in the future, it was worth it.”

There are opportunities outside of London and Manchester, as well as firms within the two cities who take steps to make their internships more inclusive, said first-year Economics undergraduate, Timothy Lynch: “Some [banking] internship programmes I was looking at offered accommodation as part of the contract”.

The issues “make unpaid internships a serious and pressing problem for social mobility,” said the study.

The Trust makes three key recommendations to make the internship system fairer:

  1. Interns working for longer than a month should earn the national living wage of £7.85 per hour (or £9.15 in London), or at least the national minimum wage (£6.50).
  2. Internships should be advertised “publicly, rather than being filled informally.”
  3. The process of recruiting interns should be more “fair, transparent and based on merit.”

 

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